An unnamed narrator begins the novel. He says he grew up with Jim, the story's protagonist, in Nebraska. Now they both live in New York, but do not see each other often. Jim is a lawyer for a railroad and travels often. Jim is married, the narrator says, but does not get along well with his wife, who leads her own life as a socialite, independent of Jim.
The introduction is a "frame" that presents the novel as a series of memories from Jim's point of view. The frame also introduces Jim as a practical and successful lawyer who lacks love and connection in his life.
The narrator says he ran into Jim again last summer on a train in Iowa. Jim kept bringing up Ántonia, an immigrant Bohemian girl whom they knew in Nebraska when they were young. Months later, Jim brings the narrator a manuscript he has written, called Ántonia. But in the narrator's office Jim changes the title to My Ántonia, which is the story that follows.
The narrator reveals that Jim is actually a romantic figure who can't let go of his past. Jim places the word "my" before Ántonia's name because although his portrayal of Ántonia may not be accurate, it is the way he remembers her.